When Harold (Hal) Spielman's wife of 32 years passed away five years ago, dating did not enter his mind. First, he had to figure out how to work the washing machine.
It wasn't until he retired a year later (at age 82) and his dog died that "emptiness set in totally," he says with a laugh. "I had to get a better handle on what I could be doing to help myself." And that included re-entering the social scene as a single man in New York.
Spielman, who had worked in the market research industry, decided to write a book on the single life that could help himself and others. "I wanted to see how other people were coping," he says. Using his background in market research, he conducted seven different studies and interviewed more than 1,000 men and 600 women ages 55 and older who were widowed or divorced. Spielman's book, "Suddenly Solo: A Lifestyle Road Map for the Mature, Widowed or Divorced Man," came out in February 2013. He continues to write articles on his website, SuddenlySolo.org, and also hosts an online radio show about understanding the new dating culture.
With its unique challenges, senior dating does seem to require a road map. To overcome obstacles in your dating life, focus on communication and be willing to branch out of your typical network of friends.
Some seniors believe or are told that it's not appropriate to have a boyfriend or girlfriend after the death of a spouse. However, everyone is entitled to happiness and capable of sharing their lives with someone special. You are never too old to date, have fun and reinvent yourself, says Amy Sherman of Lake Worth, Florida. Sherman runs the website BummedOutBoomer.com and wrote "99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Dating After 40, 50, & Yes, 60!" with her sister Rosalind Sedacca.
"Starting over with someone new is healthy, if that is what you want," she says. "We're social beings after all."
Sherman says her mother is 91 and likes having a man in her life. "It helps her feel young and gives her meaning and purpose," she says.
If those around you express concerns, the key is to communicate: "Tell people how you're feeling, why dating would be important to you, and that you need someone to enhance your life," says Sherman.
Spielman adds that it's normal to experience guilt as you return to dating, but "then you realize your spouse would want you to enjoy your life."
Meeting single seniors
The dating scene may have changed quite a bit since you last sought a mate. But the rules for meeting new people remain the same: Start where you're comfortable. Do you enjoy dancing? Try a ballroom dancing class where you aren't required to bring a partner. If you're a sports fan, watch or attend games with friends. Drop by an adult education class, a wine tasting or a bookstore.
"If you don't meet someone in those places, at least you're enjoying yourself," Sherman says.
While comfort is important, it's wise to branch out a little. Consider shopping at a different grocery store or coffee shop, says April Braswell, the senior dating expert at DatingAdvice.com.
"I'm not saying you'll meet your next great love at the deli counter, but mix things up," she says. "Practice chatting with people so that saying 'Hello' becomes normal, not awkward."
Spielman continued to socialize with friends he and his wife had enjoyed together. By attending community activities with them, he met some single women. When he was ready, they were his first dates.
Many single seniors also are meeting through online dating sites. Seniors are actively using sites like OurTime.com, Match.com and eHarmony.com. Just remember, the Internet can help you meet new people but it's not the place where a relationship can progress. If you've connected with someone and you're interested, get together within a few weeks, Braswell suggests. "You won't really know if there's chemistry until you meet in person."
After years on your own or with the same partner, it can be daunting to connect emotionally and physically with someone new. The experience is different for everyone, Sherman says. Some people may be ready to date soon after the death of a spouse; others need to build their confidence again. Some could take years to move past the emotions of a divorce.
"Honor yourself and the pace that feels right," says Braswell.
Once you've met someone, communication is key. One of Spielman's studies revealed that most senior men are ready for sex after three dates, whereas women aren't ready until five. If a man and woman want to get on the same page about a relationship, "both have to be prepared to say what they feel," he says.
Whether your goal is to find a dancing partner or a romantic partner for life, the important thing is to "make an effort to get out there and live," says Spielman." That's what we're here for."